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Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

All Hail Breaks Loose Yet Again

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Was there ever a more exciting weekend for the state's sports fans? Marquette and Wisconsin did their basketball rivalry proud in a gritty 61-54 MU victory in Madison. Then the UW football team got its revenge against Michigan State, 42-39, in the Big Ten championship game, earning a second straight Rose Bowl trip. And then the Packers took everything the Giants could throw at them but still raced down the field in the final minute to grab a 38-35 decision and a 12-0 record.

It took a while for the Observers to catch their breath.

Frank: Wow, did anyone really think Badgers-Spartans II would surpass the October game for drama?

Artie
: I'm amazed I survived it myself, on top of the hoops showdown.

Frank
: If anyone thought Michigan State won the first time by sheer luck, they don't now. The Spartans proved there's hardly anything to choose from between the teams.

Artie
: Eight quarters of back-and-forth, never-give-up, all-out effort, ain'a?

Frank
: And are you thinking what I am? The first game was won on a Hail Mary pass and the second game hinged on...

Artie
: Another Hail Mary, although it didn't go to the end zone.

Frank
: Russell Wilson's fourth-down escape from a wicked rush and long cross-field throw to Jeff Duckworth saved UW and set up the winning touchdown.

Artie
: Wilson is our Doug Flutie, you betcha!

Frank
: As we've seen all season, Wilson's ability to scramble—like Aaron Rodgers did Sunday—was crucial.

Artie
: The Michigan State defense was in the UW backfield early and often in the second half. Man, are they fierce! But it's not just Wilson's running; it's the fact that he can make any kind of throw, too.

Frank
: Talk about a complement to the ground game with Montee Ball.

Artie
: I was puzzled that with a 21-7 lead the Badgers seemed to back off the running game. When they tried to start it up again, it wasn't effective.

Frank
: Ball had 13 carries for 105 yards in the first quarter but only 14 for 32 after that. Of course, the Spartans had something to do with that. But besides Wilson and Duckworth, I'm naming another Badger as a game-saver—linebacker Chris Borland.

Artie
: I know what you mean! The third-down pass near the goal line that he dived to deflect, which forced the Spartans to kick a field goal for a 39-34 lead.

Frank
: Exactly. If Borland fails, I think the receiver makes it into the end zone and MSU's lead is nine points with 8:28 to play.

Artie
: As a freshman in '09, Borland was terrific at outside LB. He missed almost all of last season with a bad shoulder, then was moved inside this year. And all he's done is make the All-Big Ten first team.

Frank
: Of course, some luck helps decide any close game. In October it was the crazy Hail Mary. This time, if you're a Spartans fan, it was the fateful penalty on the Badgers' last punt, voiding a return that went inside the UW 5-yard line.

Artie
: Why did coach Mark Dantonio go for the block when even the 5-yard “running into” penalty would let the Badgers keep the ball and run out the clock? I know they blocked a punt in the first game, but they figured to get pretty good field position on this one.

Frank
: Dantonio had no timeouts left, so give him credit for gambling. And give a little sympathy to Isaiah Williams, who ran into the punter and was the nearest defender to Duckworth on the key pass.

Artie
: Too bad for the kid. But I also feel sympathy for Montee Ball, who seems to have been forgotten in the Heisman Trophy talk. He has more than 1,700 rushing yards, tops in the nation, and 38 overall TDs, one short of Barry Sanders' all-time collegiate record. But the running back “buzz" all season was about Alabama's Trent Richardson.

Frank
: And how come Wilson hasn't been part of the Heisman talk for weeks? Why is Stanford's Andrew Luck the presumed contender?

Artie
: Your team loses more than once and somehow you're toast. It ain't fair.

Frank
: And here's what else ain't fair. Why do only two teams have a shot at the BCS championship—teams who have played each other already?

Artie
: LSU is unbeaten, great, but why reward Alabama for sitting idle while everyone else was playing title games?

Frank
: Is there anyone who's seen Wisconsin play who doesn't think the Badgers could beat LSU on a given day?

Artie
: The same applies for Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford, Boise State—heck, Michigan State too.

Frank
: It's disgraceful that big-time football is the only college sport that doesn't have a playoff system.

MU-UW Lives Up to the Hoopla

Artie: Marquette played a great game, but the only time I root against them is when they play the Badgers. It goes back to when the MU program was trashed by Mike Deane while Dick Bennett was resurrecting UW.

Frank
: Both programs are thriving now with Buzz Williams and Bo Ryan.

Artie
: The Badgers looked out of sorts for much of the game. The MU defense seemed to have them out of their usual game plan, rushing some shots.

Frank
: On offense the Golden Eagles certainly out-quicked UW, getting a lot of penetration into the paint and on the wings. That helped them get to the glass and contributed to their 16 offensive rebounds.

Artie
: It was a turnaround from last year in the Bradley Center, when the Badgers dominated in offensive boards.

Frank
: MU fans have to be thrilled that so many players contributed to this win. Williams benched point guard Junior Cadougan because of a rule violation, but he got 32 points from his bench guys.

Artie: Freshman Todd Mayo had 14 points in 24 minutes and other young guys like Juan Anderson and Jamail Jones also had important baskets after UW cut the second-half margin to one point. And Vander Blue seems to be really stepping up after doing virtually nothing last season.

Frank: Neither team shot well, and of course the defenses were a factor. For the Badgers, it extended their chilly performance against North Carolina. Over the two losses, they shot 34% overall (39 for 114) and 28% from three-point range (13 for 47).

Artie
: But beyond the shooting, in the first half I was wondering whether those refs had ever worked a game where a team actually plays solid, basic defense like the Badgers do. I was trying to be impartial, but there were a couple of ticky-tack calls that might have made the Badgers back off a little.

Frank
: Overall it was balanced, with 21 MU fouls and 18 for UW. The way Williams was reacting, he may have felt the same way about the refs, but at different moments.

Artie
: But I had a much better view than he did from my couch—with benefit of replays.


Another Nail in the Coughlin

Frank: Not that we dislike Giants coach Tom Coughlin, but the headline was too good to pass up.

Artie
: The Giants played a great game, and some goofy dropped passes had me worried for a while, but those last 58 seconds when Rodgers took the Pack to the winning field goal were mighty sweet.

Frank
: I must admit that my youthful devotion from the '60s took over and I really, really wanted Big Blue to stop the march to 16-0.

Artie
: I understand completely. Man, that game lasted so long, and on top of the late-night Badgers finish. We should get time and a half for watching these games!

Frank
: See what you can do about that.

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